It's easier than you might think to tour many parts of Sicily without a hire car. The distribution of Trenitalia railway stations is quite dense in the coastal regions and the urban areas around Catania and Palermo.
Obviously, if you plan to spend your holiday in Sicily touring by Trenitalia, you will need an apartment near a train station. If this apartment is also close to a major city, there will be plenty of connections so you'll have lots of opportunities for interesting trips.
For trips into the interior of Sicily and the nature reserves, unfortunately there are no trains. For holiday makers who want to tour these parts of Sicily, a rental car is your only option.
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We'll give you the good news first: The Trenitalia timetable is available in English online.
Try it yourself: Just enter the departure station "Palermo Centrale" and the destination station "Catania Centrale"....
Now for the bad news: Trenitalia's longer distance connections are very slow.
For example, travelling by rail between Catania and Palermo - Sicily's two largest cities – takes about 5 hours. The coaches manage this distance in half the time. The reason for Trenitalia's snail-pace trains is the single-track structure of the railway lines in Sicily.
In urban areas, Trenitalia is a faster option than the traffic-congested roads. This is especially true around Catania and Palermo. There are multi-track lines which keep the trains running constantly.
The next section shows the better Trenitalia routes around Sicily.
The Trenitalia website doesn't just give you sheduled times in English, but also lets you see online the exact location of any train, at any time. This means you can find out if your train is late, how late, and exactly where it is, in real time.
First open the page http://www.viaggiatreno.it/ and set it to "English", "Regional Traffic" and "Sicilia". Then click "Train Search" on the left hand side. A new window opens, in which you can insert either the train number or the station.
Let's try "PALERMO". Since there is more than one station in Palermo, you will get an additional selection box. We select "PALERMO CENTRALE" (the main station) and click "SEARCH".
Immediately, a new window opens and shows you all the trains arriving at, and departing from, Palermo Centrale station right now.
If you Click on the train number, another window opens showing you the train's whole route, where it is now, and which platform it will stop at. From this wondow, you can click through to a street map of the area around the train station.
Three more tips:
It's well worth exploring this Trenitalia timetable website for yourself, as you will certainly discover more useful functionality.
As we have already seen, Trenitalia is not very fast in Sicily because of the numerous single-track connections.
Sitting back and taking things slowly is great while you're on holiday so maybe this isn't so bad. On the other hand, no one wants to spend their whole holiday on a train.
In the map below, you can see a sun icon right next to the red marker 2. Zoom in at this point and click the little "Earth" window on the bottom left of the map. You will end up at the train station in the small town of Santa Flavia.
You have to be precise about the names of the train stations when using the Trenitalia website. The station at Santa Flavia is called "S. Flavia-Solunto-Porticello" and if you enter "Santa Flavia" into the search box, you get no results.
"S. Flavia-Solunto-Porticello" station offers three benefits for holiday makers in Sicily. First of all, it is in the centre of the city and close to many holiday lettings (5 to 10 mins on foot). Secondly, on weekdays the trains run every half hour and, last but not least, it only takes 20 minutes to reach central Palermo.
When you've had enough of the big city, just go back eastwards on Trenitalia to the small town of San Nicola l'Arena. Its railway station – which Trenitalia calls "S. Nicola (Tonnara)" - is indicated on the map below by a sailboat next to the sun.
Though this town is small, it is home to the largest marina in Sicily. You've probably already discovered it on the map. On weekdays, Trenitalia will take you to San Nicola l'Arena once an hour, and the journey takes just 11 minutes. If you do not want to go sailing yourself, you can take a seat outside the large café in the harbor and watch what's going on.
The example of Santa Flavia shows how easily you can tour Sicily without a car. It just depends on finding the right apartment, which should be:
The turquoise markers will help you when searching. You can reach all these stations from Trenitalia's five main railway hubs with a constant service and reasonable travel times. Enter them as a destination station on the Trenitalia website, and you will find out the frequency of the service and the names of all the small railway stations on the route. Don't forget: as we have seen in the example of Santa Flavia and San Nicola l'Arena - the names of towns and the names of the stations are not always the same.
You could of course take the simplest option by renting an apartment in Santa Flavia! But please note: Although Santa Flavia is still the insider choice for holidays in Sicily, its "Trenitalia appartments" are often fully booked.